Input & output: a path toward balance

Last weekend, I spoke at a conference. It had almost been a year, down to the day, that I last spoke in front of a crowd. My clicker didn’t work. I got stuck on the word “statistician” and could not pronounce it for the life of me. I accidentally flipped to the wrong slide at least once. I was most definitely out of practise.

The decision to stop speaking for a year was mostly on purpose. I love speaking, but it takes me a lot of time and energy to write a talk, and I was burnt out. I needed a break.

So instead, I took up reading again. I’ve been getting progressively better at reading since I spent a year reading only books written by women, which I then followed up by a second year of reading only books written by people of colour, which was more transformational but I never got around to writing about. Last year, I read 100 books. My brain should probably be full by now.

But the thing is, it’s really not. Turns out reading a whole lot is kinda like eating a box of Pop-Tarts—you’re just left wanting more Pop Tarts. (Or is that just me? Seems like it should be more like eating vegetables for your brain, but maybe I’m eating Pop-Tarts wrong.) Every book I read just sparks five more book recommendations. I need more bookshelves. And more time.

The problem is … it’s easy to fall into a trap of never wanting to actually make anything. I catch myself saying things like “Oh, I just need to read these three books before I can design a search input.” It’s coming from a good place—wanting to be as informed as possible—but it’s preventing me from actually getting things done.

As with so many things, balance is integral.

And as with other things, balance is not an area at which I excel. I tend toward the all-or-nothing. If you need someone to stay up all night obsessing over a line of typography, and then blow off work the next day to go dancing in Tijuana, I’m your girl. My current favourite colour combination is hot pink paired with highlighter cyan. I’m not a fan of shades of grey. (The book, the colours, or the concept.)

An accurate portrayal of my approach to most things.

It’s time for me to go back to being a doing-things person. Given my history, I would have expected that to be a really natural transition, but I’m really struggling to get that balance sorted out in a way that leaves me feeling as though I’m making progress.

One thing I’ve noticed is I absolutely hate writing now. I’m not sure when that happened. I went to an arts high school for literary arts. I carried around huge binders in which I wrote books when I was twelve. I used to publish all sorts of zines of dubious and varying levels of quality. I read like it’s going out of style. I write small novels as part of my job. Why do I loathe and avoid writing so much?

I suspect it’s that I’m setting myself up for failure by trying to take on too much. Sometimes, the problem is that I want to do so much and read so much and accomplish so much… that I get caught up in my future-plans and end up burning myself out entirely, and I don’t get anywhere.

So I’ve redesigned the process, with the aim to start being more strategic and deliberate about how I spend my time. I’ve split things into inputs (reading things, going to exhibits, taking courses) and outputs (writing things, speaking at things, and making things). And they’re colour-coded, because of course they are. It currently looks something like this:

Somehow I feel like Trello-ing my Life Plans is the most designery thing I could do.

As you can see, I’m already behind.

That’s okay. The important thing here is to realise that nothing is perfect, including me. This is a really hard concept for me to swallow. But I can iterate on everything that I do! If I haven’t learnt absolutely everything I might possibly be able to learn, that’s okay. I can update as I go. I can learn as I do. I can fail my way to success.

The important thing right now is to start doing.

Let’s go!